Are White Lies Harmless?

17 12 2016

by Nick Galifianakis

‘If you were hiding Jews during the second World War, and the Gestapo came to ask whether you were sheltering them, is it morally wrong to tell the Gestapo that you are not, when indeed you are?’ is a question that is often posed to discern whether lies are ever excusable. Perhaps the white lie is a more whimsical example, where a woman from whom you desire affection asks, ‘How do I look?’ in the obvious case that she is having a bad appearance day. Is it ok to lie to make her feel better or is it morally correct to always tell the truth even in ‘frivolous’ situations? These are actually not easy questions, but your answer to them will reflect your ascription to a certain type of morality, lying, and most importantly truth.

Truth. In the recent American news, there has been much talk about the role and influence of fake-news and social media in the 2016 presidential election. Though there are many credible sources that say it wasn’t the determining factor in the election. There are numerous articles claiming the serious negative impact fake-news has whether it is determinative or not (NY Times, The Guardian). Perhaps, the post-modern world has really reached its apex and embraced the notion of ‘post-truth’ a word selected by the Oxford Dictionary as the International Word of the Year for 2016. Post-truth is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” But fake-news is not merely about philosophy, truth, or post-truth, it is additionally about our abandonment of morality in the economic sector. NPR’s Planet Money traces down one of the owners of the fake news websites in a recent podcast episode titled, “Finding the Fake-News King“. In the fascinating episode, Jestin, one of the owners of these fake news sites, reported to have made in the range of $10,000 to $30,000 a month. There is clear financial incentive here and in a world where profit trumps morality, it’s no surprise that fake-news is such a rampant phenomenon.

Money. So then is this fake-news phenomenon primarily a financial incentive issue? It’s hard to tell but one partial solution is to financially support credible news sources so that they can be empowered to report what is important rather than what sells. But it’s not merely an issue of money, there is indeed culpability in our post-truth mentality. We have taken truth too lightly in our generation. The 9th commandment of the decalogue seems like a peccadillo compared to its sixth and seventh counterpart (i.e. Don’t kill, Don’t commit adultery). Perhaps, we take it lightly because telling a lie doesn’t seem to harm anyone or if it does, not too much harm. Trump sure seems to believe it. We are all protégés of William James, whether consciously or not, and subscribers to the dominant American philosophy: pragmatism.

Pragmatism. Then, do we deny the enticing motivations of pragmatism and go back to modernist affirmations of right and wrong, that there is truth and there is untruth. That there is no such thing as post-truth. Perhaps. It wouldn’t hurt (haha). But to only think in the spectrum of right and wrong won’t help us properly navigate the moral ambiguities of white lies, or whether it is ok to lie to protect those in imminent danger, and it certainly will not help us see the foundational meaning of truth. What can help us see thus, is a biblical lens of shalom.

Shalom. Truth is not just right and a lie is not just wrong, as the world was created on truth as its foundation. Indulge me for a bit. A human is human. Air is air. Water is water. To mistaken heat and cold will lead to chaos. Honest predication, or truth, allows order, that is, shalom. It’s spacial. Then, there are promises. A word is my bond. Promises are truth connections of the past through the present into the future. We make promises in the present to guarantee a particular truth reality. Something of a temporal thing. And trust. Trust cannot exist with out the truth of promises. And without trust, there cannot be flourishing of relationships of any kind. Shalom, as Nicholas Wolterstorff defines it, “is the human being dwelling at peace in all his or her relationships: with God, with self, with fellows, with nature.” It is an affirmation of predication and predictability. Truth guarantees this flourishing. So a lie can be filtered through the lens of shalom. Though it’s not formulaic, it adds nuance. Should you lie to hide people in imminent danger? Yes! Will you be morally culpable for doing so? I’d like to say no.

Fake-news. So then, are we to blame the news for the result of the presidential election? No, but there is a profound shaking of foundations when we continue on with such false reporting for the sake of profit. It is more than getting things wrong, it’s increasing chaos and diminishing flourishing on a cosmic scale. It is no wonder Jesus included truth along with the way and life to predicate who He is.


It’s Finals Period… Want some salt?

4 12 2008

I’ve been coming across various simple yet unique ways that the world may be helped to become “better.” The other day I was listening to NPR and a healthcare expert was explaining how the implementation of a certain systematic hand washing procedure would decrease the likelihood of infections by a dramatic percentage. The the worst hospital in the only state (Michigan, thanks THK) to have incorporated this procedure has a less likelihood of infections than the best hospital of the rest of the America. This may not help health coverage, but it certainly sounds like a cost efficient way to increase health quality.

I was also reading Nicholas Kristof’s NYTimes Op-Ed Column, “Raising the World’s IQ“, and he talks about another simple, unique and cost-effective way to better the world:

“Travelers to Africa and Asia all have their favorite forms of foreign aid to “make a difference.” One of mine is a miracle substance that is cheap and actually makes people smarter.

Unfortunately, it has one appalling side effect. No, it doesn’t make you sterile, but it is just about the least sexy substance in the world. Indeed, because it’s so numbingly boring, few people pay attention to it or invest in it. (Or dare write about it!)

It’s iodized salt.

Almost one-third of the world’s people don’t get enough iodine from food and water. The result in extreme cases is large goiters that swell their necks, or other obvious impairments such as dwarfism or cretinism. But far more common is mental slowness.”

It’s quite sad that such a great option is overlooked because it’s not glamorous enough. I wonder how many good options are overlooked because something is just not marketable… Isn’t efficiency glamorous enough? If not that, then the glamor of philanthropy? I guess either way glamor is key. There just is something about beauty we can’t get enough of.

Going off on a bit of a tanget, this iodized salt proposition makes me wonder how differences in cultural diet affects our IQ. I’m kind of glad I’m Korean. We got lots of sodium in our food, hopefully it’s iodized. (Kimchi, baby!) Hmmm… enough thought. Back to finals. Maybe I’ll have some salt for lunch…

Why Blog?

17 08 2008

           I asked around to see if it was a good idea to start a blog of my own. There were split opinions. Some were enthusiastic and encouraged me to start, some said it was pointless and a waste of time, and some even had both negative and positive views with valid reasoning (He said it was a seemingly self-absorbed but that it also provides a means to share one’s experiences/thoughts with others). Ultimately, I decided to start a blog after I heard Marty Moss-Coane interview Dr. Pete Enns on NPR’s Radiotimes ( I was reminded through this interview, the value of asking questions. You see, the natural orientation of my mind is that of criticism (I’d like to say for the most part constructive criticism but sometimes pointless criticism regrettably leaks through my filters). Negatively put, my friends have called me a pessimist, positiviely put, my friends have kindly described me as prophetic. It has always been my disposition, even early on in my life, to ask questions, to ask why things are the way they are and for what purpose. Of the what, when, where, why, and how questions, my favorite is the “Why” with “How” as a close second. I remember once being angered in Dr. Oliphint’s Doctrine of God class when he made the statement, “There are questions that you should not ask.” Eventually, I understood that Dr. Oliphint was trying to make a point, in a provacative manner, that the motivation for asking a question matters. This is true but, though not necessarily the other side of the same coin, I think we don’t ask questions that stretch us, in fear that it is not the right question to ask. And this is what I have been reminded of, to ask anyway. The answer may be “That’s the wrong question.” But if so, you acknowledge, learn and ask another. My former teachers, Peter Enns, Steve Taylor, and EP Sanders best taught me this principle: to not be afraid to ask the wrong questions. This blog is too meager of a thing to dedicate to these great thinkers but I start this blog to continue what they have taught me. To ask questions that stretch our comfort zone. To be honest with oneself in that I don’t know everything. To be humble enough to learn through the asking and not merely through answers. So I end this entry as the beginning of this blog with the last paragraph of the Preface from Dr. Enns book:

“I believe with all my heart that honesty with oneself is a central component to spiritual growth. God honors our honest questions. He is not surprised by them, nor is he ashamed to be our God when we pose them. He is our God, not because of the questions we ask (or refrain from asking), but because he has united us to the risen Christ. And being a part of God’s family is ultimately a gift to us, not something to be obtained by us. God has freed us in Christ and made us his children. And, as all children do, we ask a lot of questions.”